Our brains are truly extraordinary. They can not only adapt to learn new things, but also adapt to our experiences.
Although it certainly seems inexplicable, over the past few decades scientists have worked hard to study exactly how this occurs, and they have found the explanation behind the magic: neuroplasticity.
The term may sound technical, but it basically refers to your brain’s ability to change to adjust to the environment.
Since the brain is fundamental to everything we think and do, taking advantage of neuroplasticity is important to improve our well-being and why not find our way to success.
Read on to find out what exactly is neuroplasticity and how to adapt your brain in a positive way.
What is neuroplasticity?
Neuroplasticity can be defined as the ability of the brain to modify its structure in response to experience.
Neuroplasticity occurs as a reaction to new information, sensory stimulation, or brain damage. And it is considered as a complex fundamental property of the nervous system that is associated with learning and memory. (3)
A key point that is not generally understood about neuroplasticity is that it is always happening. Everything we do changes our brain.
Whatever the experience, be it an action or a thought, the brain adapts and changes so that we improve in that activity and over time it becomes easier, even automatic.
But not all experiences are the same when it comes to neuroplastic changes. Those learnings necessary for survival or where a threat is detected, have priority in the brain wiring.
So, neuroplasticity works throughout life. Over time the connections within the brain become stronger or weaker, depending on the connections that are used and what their “importance” is.
Regarding age, of course, the brain of a child or young person changes more easily; their brains are very plastic. But the important thing is that an adult can also, through certain behaviors, access significant levels of neuroplasticity.
Why is neuroplasticity important?
When your brain is injured or damaged by disease, it is neuroplasticity that allows it to heal. In addition, when faced with an event or thought, this phenomenon is what allows the brain to reorganize its physical structure to obtain behaviors that are beneficial to the body.
Therefore, neuroplasticity is important not only to help you recover from a traumatic brain injury or stroke, but it can also help you improve your well-being. Reconfiguring your brain can help you establish better habits that contribute to your health and success.
Neuroplasticity also appears promising as a potential treatment engine for certain mental health conditions and learning disabilities. This is where therapy and rehabilitation play an important role; These methods are used to repair old neural pathways or create new ones.
How does it work?
Neuroplasticity is important yes. But … how does it work?
When executing an action (or thought) an electrical stimulus is generated between two neurons. The repetition of this stimulus generates morphological (in the form) and genetic (in the genes) changes that have as a consequence the increase or loss of connectivity between neurons.
In these processes, there are several molecular protagonists, calcium is one of them. As well as a great variety of enzymes and proteins that fulfill functions of great importance for the membranes of neurons.
That is the physical basis of why repeating a thought or an action over and over again increases its power and therefore neuroplasticity. Over time, this becomes automatic; a part of us. We literally become what we think and do.
7 ways to increase neuroplasticity
In the last 30 years, evidence shows that the adult brain is not as fixed as previously thought, it has even been shown that neuroplasticity can occur even in the last stages of life. (1,2)
Neuroplasticity happens on a daily basis, but it is also something that we can absolutely encourage, enhance and stimulate from home. Here are some ways to rewire your brain and increase neuroplasticity:
- Intermittent fasting : This type of diet has been shown to increase synaptic adaptation, promote neuron growth, improve general cognitive function, and decrease the risk of neurodegenerative disease.
- Travel: exposes your brain to new stimuli and new environments, opening up new pathways and activity in the brain.
- Learning a musical instrument – can increase connectivity between brain regions and help form new neural networks;
- Non-dominant hand exercises : can form new neural pathways and strengthen connectivity between neurons
- Use of mnemonic devices: memory training can improve connectivity in the prefrontal parietal network and prevent some age-related memory losses.
- Reading fiction or novels: increases and improves connectivity in the brain
- Expand your vocabulary or learn a new language: activates visual and auditory processes, as well as memory processing
- Art: Improves the connectivity of the brain at rest (the “default mode network” or DMN), which can boost introspection, memory, empathy, attention and attention.
- Dancing: reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s and increases neuronal connectivity
- Sleep: promotes retention of learning through the growth of dendritic spines that act as connections between neurons and help transfer information through cells
What is neuroplasticity? A characteristic of our brain that allows it to adapt to our experiences.
Neuroplasticity is neither good nor bad. It is just a mechanism in our brain. It happens every day, whether you like it or not, but how it happens, we can learn to influence it.
How does it work? With each repetition of a thought or emotion, we reinforce a neural pathway, and with each new thought, we modify the connections between neurons.
These small changes lead to major physiological changes in our brain that ultimately alter our behavior.
To increase the neuroplasticity of the brain there are several methods, for example reading, creating, learning a new language or instrument. In a way, the most important thing is to allow yourself the constant search for new stimuli.